The irresistible power of storytelling for organizations

“Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.” Read more

Social marketing: Can it tackle the ‘super wicked problem’ of climate change?

There are problems, and then there are wicked problems – and then there are super wicked problems. Many researchers and academics will say that climate change falls in the latter category.

My interest in climate change was reinvigorated while browsing through the programme for the upcoming World Social Marketing Conference on 16-17 May. Climate change is a key conference theme, with various paper presentations and a panel session devoted to the issue. Leading up to the conference, it’s worthwhile to explore the role social marketing plays in addressing the super wicked problem that is climate change.

The super wicked problem

I became refamiliarized with the phrase while listening to a great Re-Quilibrium podcast on social marketing and climate change. In the podcast, researcher David Meiklejohn first defines a wicked problem as a difficult problem with no easy solution – a problem that is harder to define and harder to end cleanly than a ‘tame’ problem (read more). Smoking is one example.

Meiklejohn then explains that the emergence of climate change as an issue created four additional complexity factors that went beyond those defined for wicked problems. As a result, academics began defining climate change as a super wicked problem with the following additional complexity factors:

  1. There is a limited time to respond. Example: With weather hazards growing in frequency and intensity, and increased community vulnerability linked to climate change, we need to act now before the issue becomes too overwhelming to tackle.
  2. They are caused by those seeking the solution. Example: Many of us fail to take practical actions to address climate change, though we may believe that it is a problem.
  3. There is weak or non-existent central authority. Example: Government action is affected by declining public trust and fluctuating levels of support for climate action and policies.
  4. We discount future benefits gained from taking action. Example: We value the current benefits of fossil fuels over the long-term benefits of renewable energy sources.

Is social marketing a super wicked solution?

Meiklejohn explains that from a policy perspective, climate change solutions tend towards large policy changes that can impact whole populations. But when it comes to social marketing “that’s more difficult, because we tend to work downstream – we don’t tend to work at a high policy level…we tend to work much more directly with the populations that we have contact with.”

Thinking about the four complexity factors is therefore a very useful way to develop better social marketing interventions targeting climate change. Meiklejohn recommends that such programmes should not focus on what people think about the issue, but rather what they do, or actions that they can take or are already taking.

“People say one thing about climate change and one thing about sustainability but they do very different things at times, and ultimately we’re going to be judged on how effective we are – we’re not going to be judged on whether people remember the brand of a programme, whether they remember the message of a programme – it’s got to be about what did they do.”

Meiklejohn supports using segmentation to look at specific group behaviours and lifestyles in the target population that can impact on climate change, as opposed to a broad approach that tries to get everybody to act in the same way. “The things that we do are very different across the population, and they all contribute to climate change, but we may not recognize them as doing so,” he says.

A key challenge social marketers face may be that many people are indifferent or even actively hostile towards the climate change discourse, and they may therefore not identify with the brand being communicated in a given programme. So, how do you win these people over? Meiklejohn stresses that programmes need to go beyond branding campaigns or a one-size-fits-all approach, to framing the issue in other ways:

“You might have some people that are actively hostile to the idea of climate change but are not actively hostile to the idea of reducing their energy costs, and therefore solar might make a lot of sense to them from a purely financial point of view. Once you get them to put up solar, you might have an in to be able to talk to them about other things.”

Solar energy

Photo credit: Kaspars Dambis, Flickr Creative Commons

One interesting example from Meiklejohn’s podcast is an approach in the United Kingdom addressing the fourth complexity factor: discounting the future benefits of taking action on climate change. The Behavioural Insights Team examined approaches to encourage consumers to purchase more energy efficient dishwashers and washing machines. These products are better for the environment but are more expensive than less energy efficient models. However, the lifetime running costs of the efficient models tend to be lower. To get around the initial sticker price differentiation, BIT worked with department stores to include lifetime prices on these goods, encouraging customers to purchase the more energy efficient models (read more, page 147).

As Meiklejohn’s podcast proves, social marketing can be a very useful approach for addressing climate change, though pundits continue to debate its usefulness given its limited scale and scope. Nevertheless, it remains a tried and tested approach for fostering the real behaviour change that is so sorely needed for sustainable development.

Featured photo: Asian Development Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Original article published on the International Social Marketing Association website

Augmented reality comic book narrates the resilience of acid attack survivors

The comic book Priya’s Mirror is based on the real-life stories of several acid attack survivors in India. The book is being used to empower other survivors, address the stigma and shame around this type of gendered violence, and boost awareness and action against it.

In the book, Priya is a gang-rape survivor who helps a group of acid attack survivors escape the rule of Ahankar (or ‘Ego’ in Hindi) – the demon king,

The narrative, based on the format of Hindu mythological tales, includes a character inspired by Monica Singh, who survived an acid attack in retaliation for her rejection of a marriage proposal. The attack burned more than half of Singh’s body instantly, altering her appearance permanently.

In a Mashable article, Singh says using a mirror has helped her reclaim love for her reflection, and for herself.

“I became my own strength. I used the mirror as a type of therapy to accept what happened to me — and that story was very much intertwined into the comic book. The mirror is Priya’s Mirror, but it’s also Monica’s Mirror, too.”

The book was co-produced by two nonprofits supporting victims of abuse and acid attacks — Singh’s foundation, the Mahendra Singh Foundation, and Fundacion Natalia Ponce de Leon. It is also the first comic book to be funded by the World Bank.

Readers can read Priya’s Mirror as a standard comic book or experience it in augmented reality. In the latter case, through an app readers can hold their phones or tablets up to the comic’s pages to unlock videos and animated content. Users can also use the app to participate in an awareness campaign inspired by Colombian activist and acid attack survivor Natalia Ponce de León.

But why was a comic book chosen? The book’s creator, Ram Devineni, explains that it is primarily targeting teenage boys, who are the next generation of potential aggressors. They are essential in the fight against gendered violence. The augmented reality component was also included to further engage this audience.

Devineni hopes Priya’s Mirror will have a similar impact to the first comic in the series, Priya’s Shakti, which was created in response to the gang rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012. Devineni points out that Priya’s Shakti helped create an “alternative narrative” about how society treats rape survivors.

Reaching out to fellow survivors, Singh says: “The worst thing that could happen to a girl has already been done to us. I wish nobody would go through the same thing. But, for us, it has allowed us to become fearless.”

Read the full feature about this powerful project on Mashable

Featured photo: Illustrations of the acid attack survivors who are the inspiration for the heroes in Priya’s Mirror.

Powerful social development videos

From the funny to the shocking to the downright heartbreaking, these powerful videos compiled by the Social Media for Development blog, effectively raise awareness about pressing international development and humanitarian issues.

These are the types of videos communications professionals working in the development and humanitarian fields should strive towards. Take a look and see for yourselves via the link above, or view a selection below. You’ll notice that all of them tell personal or compelling stories, while using powerful imagery. What’s more, all of the videos are under two minutes, and a few are under one. This is an essential approach to maximize views and engagement in today’s attention economy.

Need more inspiring examples? Check out this LinkedIn post from documentary filmmaker Steve Dorst.

Navigating the attention economy

Researchers and strategists including Herbert SimonThomas Davenport  and Michael Goldhaber have deduced that we are living in an attention economy. Why is this? It stems from the fact that in this day and age there is an overabundance of information due to the rapid growth of web/digital media and technology. As early as 1971, Simon effectively articulated how an overabundance of information impacts attention:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

In our information-rich world, attention is a scare and valuable commodity. So, how do we navigate this attention economy?

Surviving and thriving in the attention economy

Writing for The Media OnlineDavid Smythe notes that never before have brands had to work so hard for an audience’s attention.  “We’re moving away from a supply based media system influenced by marketers, to a demand-based media world driven by consumers … Before a brand can entertain or inform, its communication needs to be noticed,” he says. 

Smythe highlights various trends that can help marketers survive and thrive in this world:

  • Harnessing the power of Storytelling, storymaking and storybuilding. “Information that has been humanised and enriched through storytelling is persuasive and has greater memorability,” Smythe says. My previous post touched on the power of storytelling.
  • Ephemeral/momentary marketing. It can be reasonably assumed that attention starved and time deprived consumers will probably respond well to branded content that is fleeting, yet relevant. The rise of Snapchat is a good example. “By devising temporary marketing schemes, brands are appealing to a desire amongst people to consume smaller forms of content in a way that is both easy and efficient,” Smythe says.
  • Me marketing. Smythe notes that a prevailing trend suggests that every individual is now a marketer, and we all want to be marketed to individually. “There can be no more powerful way for a brand to capture attention by speaking to the consumer as if they were an individual with their own unique wants and needs … It speaks to the use of personalisation to guarantee sustained attention.”
  • Easing the consumer decision journey. Consumers are faced with too much information and are time-deprived. This leaves them feeling that they are not always making the right choices. Smythe notes that brands that become known for making the decision making process a little simpler will secure disproportionate attention ahead of the average.
  • Brand sacrifice. Smythe notes that in the 21st century, brands that sacrifice, or display some form of altruism, enjoy disproportionate attention ahead of the average. “More millennials than non-millennials integrate their beliefs and causes into their choice of companies to support, their purchases and their day-to-day interactions,” he says. “Sacrifices can be large or small; they can change the world or just the consumer’s world.”

Who are ‘attention workers’? 

In a paper for the Innovation Journalism journal, Vilma Luoma-aho and Saara Halonen describe the role of ‘attention workers’, or professional brokers of attention. They emphasize that as attention becomes increasingly scarce, the influence of attention workers rises. In this context, attention workers can include journalists, public relations practitioners, marketers, advertisers, lobbyists and other actors. They are professionals who aim to distribute information and knowledge effectively, increasing social capital in the process. Identifying and cultivating these attention workers could go a long way for organizations.

Look out for my next post, where I’ll touch on some challenges associated with the attention economy.


Photo: Copyright woodleywonderworks, Flickr